Culture

Refocusing Women Empowerment: Multi-sectoral resistance against oppression

Words by Toni Ysabel Dimaano

On March 8, 1917, thousands of women took the streets of Soviet Russia demanding for bread and peace, but most importantly, for their right to vote after the huge damage World War I left on the country, which led to what is believed to be the first and the greatest gathering of women in a protest recorded in history. This anchors the celebration of the International Women’s Day (IWD) commemorated on the same date every year to look back on the suffrage that sparked multiple movements aimed to grant women of their basic civil and human rights. 

Through the decades of resistance against inequality, the rise of the women’s liberation movement and feminism allowed women’s rights advocates to raise awareness about the issues women face, lobby for accelerated response to their calls, and celebrate womanhood and their achievements in a more inclusive intersectional way. 

In the Philippines, during the month of March, the celebration of women continues and highlights emerging women empowerment concerns and breakthroughs which focus on activities regarding gender equality. This year, the Women’s Month Celebration focuses on women in leadership in a world of COVID-19, ironically, under a male-dominated macho-fascist administration.

It is undeniable that the women’s movements have progressed since the early 20th century with women breaking barriers in different fields, and being recognized for their trailblazing contributions to culture and society. It gives high hopes that feminist groups carry on to grow and multiply in the recent years, and even to have more individuals from all walks of life identify as feminists today. However, this poses the unavoidable question of to what extent does this feminism go?

Recently, the boom of social media provided a platform to learn and advocate for feminist causes, allowing women to uplift each other and fight together against discrimination. Although the intention of such is good, there is an obvious lack in the understanding of what the movement truly entails which makes people forget the socialist roots of the women’s liberation and feminism, and put some figures on a pedestal without looking beyond their achievements as women.

It is relatively easier that it became a common practice on social media to uplift women for their contributions to the society, may it be in business, science, arts, pageantry, or politics just like US Vice President Kamala Harris, British writer JK Rowling, and, in the Philippine context, Former President Corazon Aquino who was one of the perpetrators of the Hacienda Luisita massacre which resulted from her failed agrarian reform, late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago who was an enabler or the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his family, and Senator Pia Cayetano who, despite calling herself a feminist, excused sexist behavior by saying that “boys will be boys” to name a few. This shows how society fails to recognize that not all women in power empower all women. Oftentimes, the women put up on a pedestal unknowingly remains in the benefits of the patriarchal system. 

Understanding women empowerment encompasses women liberation as a liberation from the class struggles as well. After all, the movement towards women’s rights to freedom began as a protest by working class women, refusing to stay prisoner to the unjust ways the patriarchy perpetuated. It is not enough to only advocate for one type of women as the fight for equality transcends to the outcry of the indigenous women, working class women, queer and trans women, women of color, and disabled women. 

It then is necessary to center the celebration of the IWD and the Women’s Month on refocusing women empowerment towards empowering women in the marginalized sectors, first and foremost, who remain deprived of equal rights and just treatment, while the society moves forward to face the common enemy. In hopes of achieving freedom for women and freedom for all, it is crucial to recognize genuine women’s liberation will only be achieved once society finally frees itself from the shackles of the macho-feudal ways of the patriarchal society which continue to oppress women.

It is the citizens’ responsibility to continue utilizing the means presented to them by educating themselves about the intersectional nature of feminism, and to tirelessly assert for the women’s place in society, and amplify consciousness towards women and their plight. So long as women remain oppressed under the culture of sexism and misogyny, the resistance against a macho-feudal patriarchal society will persist and eventually prevail.

Going beyond recognizing that there are indeed women’s issues in the society that need to be addressed, it is imperative to follow collective consciousness with collective action that will amplify dissent against the blatant and constant attacks directed at the marginalized on a day-to-day basis. It is through criticizing the status quo that the comfortable will be disturbed, and that the oppressed can build from in order to attain freedom where nobody is left behind. [P]

Photo by Sophia Lorena Pugay
Design by Michael Ian Bartido

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